FT. MORGAN, Ala. (WALA) – The Spanish placed the first documented fortification on the Ft. Morgan peninsula in 1780. It also almost became a private tourist destination in the late 1950s. But, it’s the time frame between those two events in which Fort Morgan seeded its place in the history books.
A classic French military design, from 1813 through 1944 thousands of men lived, trained and fought behind its historic walls. If the gallant archways could talk, they’d have quite the stories to tell. The fist U.S. soldiers to man the fort came in 1813.
After the British were able to land on the east coast and burn Washington during the War of 1812, the federal government became concerned we were too vulnerable by sea.
“The United States looked at what to do with the state of coast defense and what came from that were over 40 forts constructed on the east coast and on the Gulf Coast and Fort Morgan was one of those,” explained Ft. Morgan Director, Mike Bailey.
Fort Morgan and the Civil War
“It gave a safe sanctuary for blockade runners to get in”
Nearly 50 years passed and just a week before Alabama seceded from the Union, The state took the fort from federal control.
It was January of 1861. “What percipitated the action of the state to take Fort Morgan was a U.S. warship, the USS Crusader sailed into Mobile Bay, anchored off Fort Morgan and immediately it was thought this ship was bringing reinforcements to Fort Morgan to keep it in US hands,” Bailey said.
When state forces moved on the fort, they surprisingly encountered no resistance finding it manned by only an ordinance seargant and a lighthouse keeper. Over the next four years, Fort Morgan would see plenty of action. It’s role during the Civil War was to guard the entrance of Mobile Bay from Union forces and to provide protection for blockade runners carrying cargo in and out of the port of Mobile.
“It gave a safe sanctuary for blockade runners to get in,” Bailey said. If you could make it through the Union blockading fleet and get under the guns of Fort Morgan, you were assured you were going to be able to take your cargoes into Mobile.”
The Union focused its efforts on the taking of Mobile Bay and Fort Morgan on August 5th, 1864. Union Admiral D. J. Farragut led his fleet of 17 warships past the guns of the fort, losing only one ship. It’s widely believed by historians that the fall of Fort Morgan during the Battle of Mobile Bay and the falling of Atlanta 10 days later secured the re-election bid for Abraham Lincoln, who was facing sure defeat up to that point.
“The fort suffered very little damage. It came through with only one man killed. He was an unfortunate soldier who was outside the fort eating breakfast and a round flew over the top, landed exactly where he was sitting and killed him,” Bailey explained.
Fort grows as coastal defensive stronghold
Over the next 40 years the fort was reinforced with concrete batteries and large calliber guns as part of the Army’s coastal defense initiative, realizing the strategic importance of the port of Mobile. During this time Fort Morgan grew to having over 400 troops, their families and support personnel. The site included schools, a post exchange and a hospital.
“Around 1910 this was the largest permanent military base in the state of Alabama and also the largest community in Baldwin County during that period,” Bailey said.
The base was permanently closed in 1924 just to re-open in 1941 with the advent of the U.S. involvement in World War II and the threat of German submarines off the U.S. coast. Throughout the war, coastal artillary units trained at the fort and were sent to the French warfront as needed. The fort was finally closed for good in 1944. It’s now a National Historic Landmark visited by thousands each year.
“This is our first time coming…just coming out and seeing the cannons and buildings and stuff. Some of the architecture’s just amazing what they have in the fort,” said Phillip Blaylock from north Alabama.
“It was really great to learn about the Battle of Mobile Bay and learn a little more about the history and the importance that these coastal forts had on the security of our country,” said Lee Siler, another first time visitor to the fort.